Race: Ranger Roundup Road Race
Location: Celina High School
Date: Sunday, March 14th
Division: Collegiate Women's B
Place: 1st, Women's B
We left Saturday afternoon from Houston and arrived in Dallas at 5:30 pm, and we had just enough time to drive over to the race location and drive the course. Unknowingly, we drove the course backwards, but it was enough to see the menacing hills, one after another, that waited for us the next morning. I felt anxious about the race because (1) I had never trained with hills before and did not feel comfortable with racing on hills, (2) I did not know what I was getting myself into and had no clue what my competitors would be like, and (3) had only completed one race before (UT, 2009) which was complete torture and during which I got lost following the course. Thus, I was not exactly confident in how I would be able to perform on Sunday, and I was just hoping I could finish without getting lost.
Luckily, the course was a square, so it would be quite hard to get lost, so I went to sleep hoping I could stay with a few of the women in my category. We woke up at 5:30 am and arrived at the course at 7 am, just as the race organizers pulled up in their truck. Since my race didn't start until 9:45 am, I stayed in the car and did homework until it was time to get ready (yes, homework - I'm a Rice engineering student, what can I say...).
We warmed up at 9:15 am, and we began the rolling start by 10 am. The Women's B collegiate group had 10 racers, and they all seemed pretty friendly, yet quite intense about biking. Most had a few years of racing under their belt, and no one there was new to racing besides Joscelyn and me (we were the only two girls from Rice). We were both amazed that large public schools like A&M and UT, with more than 40,000 students, can only manage to bring 2-3 girls to a cycling race, when a small school like Rice, with only 6,000 students, can bring the same number of competitors. I guess it just shows the motivation that Rice students have!
We started the race at a pretty easy pace, much slower that I expected. The distance was 36 miles, with 4 laps of 9 miles each. Hearing the guys talk about previous races had prepared me to think that the pace of the first lap would be very hard so that riders would be dropped, but this didn't exactly happen with this race. We started at 16-18 miles per hour, going pretty slow up the hills and cruising on the downhills. Three girls went ahead and tried to stay with the Men's C pack, so I stayed with the second group, consisting of 4 other girls besides myself. The girl in front (U of H, I believe) pulled almost the entire lap, with two LSU girls behind her, an A&M girl which dropped halfway into the first lap, and me behind. I had never pulled before, so I didn't really feel comfortable getting to the front. I tried to be conservative and stay with the pack, especially since I knew that it was terrible to get dropped. I didn't want to have to fight the wind alone and get stuck by myself on the course, so I made sure to stay close.
After the first lab, we caught up to a UT girl that had gone ahead, and she joined our pack as the U of H girl began to drop out (she was pretty tired from the first lap). And we still had 3 laps to go!! Our group stayed together for most of the lap, and we started trading off pulling in the front, so I took a few turns. It was quite fun pulling, but a lot of work, so it was nice to trade off. The girls in the pack were really nice, so everyone was friendly and would take turns at the front. After I pulled for a bit, the UT girl and one of the LSU girls dropped out, so I was left with just on LSU girl behind me. We talked a bit (her name was Madison), and we decided to catch up to the two girls in front of us. We saw them at the end of the second lap (they had also been dropped from the men's pack), so we caught up and joined them.
This was now the start of the third lap, and I was feeling pretty comfortable and definitely much more confident knowing that I was in the front pack and still feeling energized. The two new girls seemed very focused and intense (one was UNT and the other was A&M), but we did trade off pulling for a while. I was happy to have the LSU girl in the pack because I knew we could help each other, but some drama arose as the UNT girl tried to convince her to leave us behind and break away with her. The girl from LSU refused (bravo!), and we stayed together.
Sadly, there was a crash on the third lap when LSU was riding closely behind A&M on a downhill, and A&M slowed down slightly, causing LSU to bump into her tire and crash behind us. LSU had a pretty bad fall, and she was spread out on the middle of the road. We all slowed down and looked behind us, but we couldn't do anything, and luckily there was a truck behind us to carry her to medical assistance. She ended up being fine, with just a badly scraped wrist, but she could not continue racing. This made me really sad because I knew I had just lost my friendly competitor, for I was left with two racing experts that were intent on finishing the race first, doing whatever it took.
Going into the fourth lap, I found that the other two would no longer take turns pulling, and I was forced to stay in the front almost the entire time. This was very tiring, but they would not move up to the front when I slowed down, and I did not want to lose our lead. Therefore, I pulled and they stayed on my back until the final turn with 4 miles left, and the two raced ahead trying to drop me and keep together. I pushed it to stay with them, and from there it felt like a fight to the finish. When the UNT girl realized I was keeping up with them, she decided to use her tactics and coast behind me, reserving her strength for the last stretch. I knew what was coming and that she planned to break away at the end, but I had no choice but to stay in front and push hard as we neared the end. I just hoped that my legs wouldn't give out because they sure were burning by then.
I really did not want the UNT girl to beat me at the finish, especially since she played the game of letting me do all the work, so I was determined to fight her to the end. As the last hill came in sight, it was an all-out battle to the finish. I thought to myself, "show her what triathletes are made of, we've got legs trained for endurance," and I started climbing that last hill. I was just waiting to see her pull in front of me at any second, but as I grimaced and fought my way to the top, no one pulled past me and I cr ossed the finish line in first. What a race!!
UNT finished 10 seconds behind me, and A&M was a few seconds behind her. I was so glad that I made it through to the end, even after all of that pulling, and it felt ecstatic coming in first. I congratulated all of the girls behind me, and it was really encouraging to see all of my Rice teammates cheering. Everyone had a great race, and we all pushed ourselves to our limits. The weather was great, the scenery was gorgeous, and feeling of accomplishment was wonderful. I can't wait for the next race, and I hope there will be a few more Rice girls out there to show the other schools that we've got game!
Congratulations to all the RUCT competitors this weekend, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the racing season. Thanks to Mark Knight for the great pictures, and Violetta Krol did an amazing job ordering new racing jerseys for the team.